Being stressed for a job interview is one thing — a stress interview with a hostile interviewer is another.
Imagine sitting through a two-hour interview with a company’s CEO. But instead of asking you questions, the CEO provides an uninvited, line-by-line critique of your work — and even comments on the way you’re sitting. Oh, and he calls you an underachiever. Sounds like a nightmare, right?
Unfortunately, this was the reality for 22-year-old Olivia Bland. Shortly after leaving this second-round interview for a U.K.-based technology company, she received a job offer. Confused, she accepted, then later backed out and shared her “thanks, but no thanks” letter on Twitter. Her tweet went viral as people rallied behind her. She ended up calling the experience, which left her in tears, “humiliating.”
Some hiring professionals have deemed this a classic “stress interview,” a tactic that allegedly helps a company see how a potential employee responds to stress. The interview might consist of confusing brainteasers, intimidating questions, or aggressive behavior — like Bland experienced.
Through the years, however, stress interviews have become more controversial, and big-name companies like Google are moving away from the act, according to Business Insider. Some companies, unfortunately, are less quick moving.
So Bland’s experience has us wondering: How do you handle a stress interview without breaking down, losing your cool, or walking out? In case you ever find yourself in a similar situation, use these tips to keep your cool and help you survive:
1. Take your time
A job interview is already stressful enough, so when an interviewer barrels into the room with rapid-fire questions and abrasive comments, your existing stress obviously heightens.
The key: Don’t feel like you have to follow the interviewer’s pace. Take a few calming breaths, slow down your answers, and focus on what you’re saying. If you need more time, ask the interviewer to repeat or clarify the question. This will give you a few more seconds to think through your response.
2. Exude confidence
Interviewers aren’t only grading you on your answers to tough questions and brainteasers in these situations. They’re also judging your body language, which includes your eye contact, posture, handshake grip, smile, arm placement, and vocal inflection.
When you start feeling intimidated or stressed, it’s natural to retreat into defense mode and cross your arms. You might sink into your seat or lower your voice. You won’t necessarily notice when these changes are happening, but it’s important to be mindful. Do your best to sit up straight, maintain eye contact, and use open hand gestures.
3. Ask questions
In a stress interview, you might feel out of control. The interviewer has taken the driver’s seat and is accelerating at uncomfortable speeds. Remember that that’s the point of these types of interviews — to see how you’ll respond in such a situation.
Your job is to gain some control back. This can be difficult, especially when you’re already in a naturally subordinate position, but here’s a simple trick: Ask the interviewer questions. Of course, you won’t want to interrupt, but view any pauses as opportunities.
There are a ton of questions you can ask, but here are a few that might fit into a stress interview:
A personal question: I’m curious to know a bit more about your career path. How did you get your start?
A question about the job: What traits will the perfect candidate in this position have?
A question about the team: Can you tell me more about the people I’d be working directly with? The manager I’d be reporting to?
A question about the company: How would you describe this company’s culture?
Not only can these questions help take the heat off you for a second, but they can also help you better understand the company and how it operates outside of this situation.
5. Exit Politely
If you feel threatened during your interview or the situation crosses a line, let the interviewer know you don’t think you’re a good fit for this position and dismiss yourself from the situation. If you make it to the end of the interview, do your best to remain polite and leave with confidence.
If you’d like to follow-up about the interview tactics or feel as though the interviewer crossed a line, consider following up with the company’s human resource department, as Bland did. If you feel as though you were discriminated against, you can file a charge with The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
6. Don’t settle
Some might argue a stress interview is simply a gimmick that companies employ to find the right candidate — one who can handle day-to-day stress. However, if you feel uncomfortable during the interview but passed the test and received an offer, follow your gut. An interview will often reflect a company’s culture.
That’s what Bland did. Although she initially accepted the offer, she emailed the company back to let them know she couldn’t accept the offer and explained why. She provided honest feedback and concluded her email respectfully. She’s now moving on to find another opportunity that will be a better fit.
Ultimately, don’t blame yourself. If you couldn’t withstand the stress test, that’s OK. It’s not necessarily a direct reflection of how you deal with stressful situations — it’s simply a gimmick, one that’ll be deemed archaic sooner rather than later.
Still not feeling entirely confident about your upcoming job interview? Our expert TopInterview coaches can help.